Tuesday, March 11, 2014

#645 - Ken Boswell

In one of the set’s final action shots we get Ken Boswell somewhere in the infield at Shea. This would have been pretty rare moment for Ken in ’73: of his 110 at bats during the year about half of them were in the pinch and his playing time was seriously squeezed by the acquisition of everyday second baseman Felix Millan before the beginning of the season. That acquisition was made necessary, in part, due to Ken’s fragility as he’d missed parts of three seasons due to injury. So just about all Ken’s games in the field in ’73 were at third base, and those after Jim Fregosi was traded away. Like many of his teammates his offensive contributions were uneven throughout most of the season until crunch time; the last two months of the season he hit .389 with a .522 OBA as a pinch hitter. He would then carry that hot streak into the post-season with a record-setting performance.

Ken Boswell grew up in Austin, Texas, where in high school he was a point guard and middle infielder. There was a considerable amount of interest in him by MLB teams his senior year after he led his HS team to go deep in a national tournament but he opted to go to nearby Sam Houston College on a baseball scholarship at his parents’ insistence. But Ken wasn’t much of a student and after some renewed interest from the Mets during his first year he decided he’d had enough of college, did a deep dive on his grades, and became eligible for the initial ’65 draft, in which he was taken in the fourth round. He then had a pretty fortuitous start to his career in A ball – see cartoon – and hit .285 with a bit of power though his defensive performance at second wasn’t too hot. He continued hitting well after moving up to Double A in ’66 with a .299 average and .374 OBA and improved things a bit defensively which earned him a mid-season call-up to Triple A where he split time between second and third while hitting .255. In ’67 he pulled his Army hitch missing all of spring training and most of the season. He hit .249 when he returned in Triple A and then got his call-up in September to NY for whom his first homer would be the only Mets one in LA that year.

Boswell was up for good after his debut but had a rough start his first season. He injured some ribs just before spring training and so missed most of his games. But he was pretty much ready when his rookie season began and got things rolling at a decent enough clip to win a split spot at second base with Dave Nelson on the Topps Rookie Team. That honor was received even though he missed a considerable part of the summer with a broken finger. During that time manager Gil Hodges began employing a platoon system for most of his infielders and Ken, a lefty hitter, would see most of the action since he hit against righties. So in ’69 he would begin a run getting the lion’s share of work at second while providing some pretty good offense. He had probably his best season in that category in ’69 as he split time with veteran Al Weiss and rookie Wayne Garrett at second. He then had an excellent playoff against Atlanta but then only got one start in the Series since Baltimore threw mostly lefties at the Mets. In ’70 his average fell a bit but Ken surprised just about everyone by reeling off a record streak of 85 straight games at second without an error, only recording two all year. Now that the handle of being defensively-challenged had been removed, he retained his spot through ’71 and into ’72 although that last season he was hindered by a season-long injury that contributed to a big hitting slump – he didn’t break .200 until mid-September – and a bit of a fallout in his defense. That performance was a big part of the rationale behind the trade that brought Felix Millan to the team the next year. Now a reserve, Ken split field time in ’74 between third and second, where he got some starts while Millan was injured. But the irregular work took its toll on his hitting as he punched in with a .216 average his final year in NY. After the season he was traded to Houston for outfielder Bob Gallagher.

Back close to his home base, Boswell would preserve his role he had his last couple seasons in NY, as a reserve guy at second and third. In ’75 he revived his average a bit to .242 and his OBA a lot more to .350 in a transitional year for the Houston infield. In ’76 Enos Cabell took over third base and Rob Andrews second and most of Ken’s time was at the former position, which meant less field time. So more than half his plate time was as a pinch hitter and he did well in that role, hitting .318 with a .387 OBA while setting a team record with 20 pinch hits. He would round things out with the Astros in ’77 at second and in the pinch, finishing his career by firmly shaking off the initial “good hit no field” tag by recording only one error his final four years at second base. Ken also finished with a .248 average with 31 homers and 244 RBI’s. In the post-season he was a bit of a monster, hitting .421 with two homers and five RBI’s in his eight games.

After playing Boswell returned full-time to the Austin area where he initially sold trucks for the Cliff Peck dealership there. He then turned to specializing in antique cars which he did for many years before retiring to his ranch, which he’d also built up and ran as a working one for many years.

These are some pretty good highlights and I like that Topps puts in the recent one of his Series work in ’73. Per the narrative on those cards way back he got those hits in three at bats for a perfect average.

As a contrast to the former hook-up this one’s pretty easy:

1. Boswell and Wayne Granger ’75 Astros.

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